Molinaro shows different sides
By: Jocelyn Syrstad
Collegian Staff Writer
Frank the Tank.
That is what assistant coach Matt Dernlan and the rest of the Penn State wrestling team call redshirt freshman Frank Molinaro. When asked what he brings to the team, the Nittany Lions are quick to respond with toughness.
Although Molinaro walks onto the mats with this tough persona, away from wrestling he is described as a carefree, good guy.
In his first season as a starter for the Lions, Molinaro has posted an overall record of 17-7 and opened the Big Ten conference season with two wins. Dernlan said the 141-pounder brings fire and intensity to the team and is capable of beating anybody in the country.
"I think I'm really aggressive when I wrestle," Molinaro said. "For the most part I feel like when I wrestle good, I wrestle tough and I give my energy to the other guys, like Bubba [Jenkins], who wrestle after me."
The Lions feel what makes Molinaro a good wrestler is his fight to go out and get a win, Jenkins said. He said his teammate brings attitude to the mats and just wants to go out and "punch his opponent in the face."
"If we take half of what Frank's got and put it into some of these other guys, we'll have a really good team," Jenkins said. "He's always willing to fight. I think if you put his grandma in a singlet, he'd go out there and punch her too."
As tough and aggressive as Molinaro is on the mats, junior Brad Pataky said once he steps off them, he is a good guy. It is especially apparent to his teammates and coaches that he enjoys spending time with his family when he is not wrestling.
Michelle and Frank Molinaro, the redshirt freshman's parents, drive over four hours to travel to State College for every match their son competes in. They also try to see Molinaro wrestle in all his away meets and tournaments. Frank Molinaro even made the trip to Indiana and Purdue last weekend to see his son participate in his first conference matches at the collegiate level.
Molinaro's paternal grandmother and aunt also try to attend as many home matches as they can. The 141-pounder said he likes when his family comes to watch him compete because it's good to have the extra support and help if he needs it.
"Well, I think it's important because we are a close-knit family and we do look out for each other and he likes having us there," Michelle said. "It gives him a little extra support. I think it's a big part of what makes him him."
Up until last season, Molinaro had another fan in the stands cheering him on, his paternal grandfather who he calls "Poppy." Molinaro said since he started competing, Poppy attended every match up until he passed away last year.
Michelle said her father-in-law had been battling severe heart problems since her son's sophomore year of high school, but still insisted on being brought to all Molinaro's matches in a wheelchair. After Molinaro was done competing, he would find his family in the stands, and Poppy was always the first one to receive a kiss, Michelle said.
To keep his grandfather with him, Molinaro got a tattoo in remembrance of him. It depicts a hand holding rosary beads to represent his Catholic background, and contains the date Poppy passed away as well as his initials.
Molinaro said it has been weird for him not having his grandfather at his matches to support him, being that Poppy was the first person he looked for in the stands when he was done wrestling.
"My father-in-law was Frank's biggest fan," Michelle said. "I think he misses his physical being, but I think in his heart he hopes Poppy is still watching him."
Even though Molinaro has had to deal with the loss of his grandfather, he continues to enjoy spending time with the rest of his family. Every weekend during the summer, Molinaro goes off-shore fishing with his dad and older brother, Robert. He said the three of them will go 20-50 miles off the New Jersey coast and spend the day on the boat.
Michelle described her son as "a caring and loving person" who is family-oriented, likes to spend time with his cousins and is great with little kids.
That is a big difference from the person his teammates see on the mats. Jenkins said his teammate is a "borderline bad sport" when he competes because of his tough-guy persona and desire to win.
But Jenkins added that Molinaro's toughness helps him when he competes. Dernlan agreed saying the redshirt freshman "has it all" including the kind of attitude you need to win at the collegiate level and in the Big Ten conference.
"That's good that as a freshman people can look to him, and look at his work ethic and how he trains in the room and in the weight room," Dernlan said. "Those are all attributes that we want everyone on our team to have. He's got what we're looking for."
The Lions know Molinaro will walk into the practice room and onto the mats everyday ready to fight, junior Dan Vallimont said. He said the team can always expect the 141-pounder to be fired up at practice and to wrestle aggressively.
But his mother said her son is more than just a tough competitior.
"He's a really good kid," Michelle Molinaro said. "He's got a tough shell, but he's really sweet inside."
Tags: Brad Pataky, Dan Vallimont, Frank Molinaro, Matt Dernlan